Climate change likely caused deadly avalanche in Tibet, researchers say
Melting at the base of the glaciers sped the flow of ice in the July disaster that killed 9
Climate change is likely to blame for a massive avalanche in Tibet that killed nine people in July.
An international team of researchers that investigated the disaster published this conclusion in the Journal of Glaciology Friday.
More than 70 million tonnes of ice broke off from a glacier in the mountains of western Tibet July 17.
The avalanche covered 9.6 square kilometres of the valley floor in just four or five minutes, said Lonnie Thompson, a professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University and one of the glaciologists who participated in the investigation.
In a statement Thompson said melted water at the glacier's base must have lubricated the ice, speeding its path down the mountainside.
Unfortunately, as of today, we have no ability to predict such disasters.- Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University glaciologist
"Given the rate at which the event occurred and the area covered, I think it could only happen in the presence of meltwater," said Thompson, adding that other nearby glaciers may now also be vulnerable.
"Unfortunately, as of today, we have no ability to predict such disasters," he said.
In order to determine the cause, researchers used satellite date and GPS to measure precisely how much ice fell and the area it covered. The team also worked with computer models to create a virtual replica of the avalanche, concluding that meltwater was the only condition that could have led to the avalanche.
"We still don't now exactly where the meltwater came from, but given that the average temperature at the nearest weather station has risen by about 1.5 C over the last 50 years, it makes sense that snow and ice are melting and the resulting water is seeping down below the glacier," Thompson said.